February 03, 2017

FCC needs to help close divide | The Inter-Mountain

Like food, water and electricity, robust broadband connectivity is a must-have for anyone who wishes to fully participate in our 21st century digital economy. From downloading and submitting job applications to having access to comprehensive health care, broadband connectivity transforms lives.

While the majority of Americans who live in urban areas have the option of easily downloading a song or a large document in a matter of seconds, people living in communities across West Virginia need upwards of eight minutes to listen to or to read the same files. In a world that grows more dependent on the internet every day, this is unacceptable. We must respond to the clear demand for mobile connectivity and put robust mobile broadband services into the hands, pockets and palms of every West Virginian.

I have long recognized the digital divide in West Virginia, and I have been working tirelessly to close it.

In October, I brought then-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to West Virginia. During the visit, Wheeler and I hosted an Innovation and Broadband Connectivity Roundtable, visited Union Education Complex to discuss the E-Rate program, toured the Moorefield Readiness Center and visited the Wardensville Garden Market to discuss rural innovation and entrepreneurship. The visit enabled me to show the chairman both what can we accomplish with dependable connectivity in our rural areas and the challenges still facing West Virginia students, business owners and residents without access to reliable broadband service.

In 2011, the FCC established a one-time, $300 million mobile broadband fund for unserved Americans. The recipients of those funds are now deploying improved broadband services to at least 83,494 road miles across the country that previously went without advanced mobile services. In addition, the FCC promised it would move to a second phase, which would bring a permanent source of mobile broadband funding to areas that need it most.

But half a decade later, the FCC has yet to deliver on that promise. As our country grows more dependent on broadband, we must ensure that rural communities in West Virginia are not left behind. With more than 30 percent of the road miles in West Virginia without broadband access, time is of the essence. The FCC must use the best data available in order to implement common-sense principles that can get the most bang for our buck.

Now is the time to turn the page and make Mobility Fund Phase II a reality. The FCC can and should ensure that adequate incentives, even in our most rural communities, are offered to carriers while simultaneously extracting the most value for each dollar spent. No citizen deserves second-class mobile broadband and it is time that all Americans — whether they’re from Elkins or Washington, D.C. — receive the reliable mobile broadband coverage they need to succeed in our 21st century digital economy.